CB Thoughts on the First Presidential Debate: Obama Wins on Foreign Policy, Economy & National Security

According to most national polls and surveys, Democratic presidential nominee Obama is the assumptive winner of Friday’s 2008 presidential debate, the first in the series of three. The Republican nominee John McCain and Obama debated foreign policy, national security and spent half the time discussing the current economic crisis.

This debate clarified three keys issues for Americans to consider in this presidential selection process.

First, the discussion revealed that McCain’s policy and thinking is rooted in the past. And Obama’s orientation is towards the future. McCain wanted the American viewers to remember his record on national security, and foreign policy and service. The problem is that Americans already know his record because that’s what his two decades in the Senate reflect. And his Vietnam P.O.W. experience is undisputed. However, what McCain seemed to forget is that Americans want to know what he is going to do for them in the future. Obama was smart to spend most of his two minutes detailing the components of his economic plan and simultaneously overcame criticisms of him being too vague or gives lofty speeches.

Obama: What I do is I close corporate loopholes, stop providing tax cuts to corporations that are shipping jobs overseas so that we’re giving tax breaks to companies that are investing here in the United States. I make sure that we have a health care system that allows for everyone to have basic coverage.

Instead, McCain chose to concentrate the majority of his economic conversation on his history of voting against spending bills. He also pointed out Obama’s pattern of proposing and supporting expensive legislation while promising to veto all spending bills as President. What Barack Obama called approaching the federal budget with a hatchet instead of a scalpel.

McCain: As president of the United States, I want to assure you, I’ve got a pen. This one’s kind of old. I’ve got a pen, and I’m going to veto every single spending bill that comes across my desk. I will make them famous. You will know their names. Now, Senator Obama, you wanted to know one of the differences. a million dollars for every day that he’s been in the United States Senate.

And surprising some viewers, Obama fired back.

Obama: And when you look at your tax policies that are directed primarily at those who are doing well, and you are neglecting people who are really struggling right now, I think that is a continuation of the last eight years, and we can’t afford another four.

With the current economic crisis and multiple military entanglements, people across the country are looking to its leadership and the future highest executive in the nation to do significantly better than the current Administration with planning and thinking forward.

This leads to the next critical issue.. In terms of foreign policy, military decisions and national security, the key word here is judgment. Whose do you trust? And whose judgment seems like the best strategic thinking for the country? Although there was a scuttle around the words: strategy and tactics. Obama nailed home the key point that judgment was needed on the decision whether to go to war in the first place. Whereas, McCain defended the strategy and tactics used in the current Iraqi surge. At one point, Obama said McCain talked about the war like it started in 2007.

The third key point raised during the debate was should an American president agree to talk with leaders of countries that may be hostile or aggressive toward the U.S. without preconditions?

McCain reminded Americans of Obama’s earlier statement about sitting down with leaders of nations like Iran and North Korea without preconditions.

McCain: Senator Obama twice said in debates he would sit down with Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Raul Castro without precondition. Without precondition. Here is Ahmadinenene [mispronunciation], Ahmadinejad, who is, Ahmadinejad, who is now in New York…

Obama tried to explain his stance on preconditions and preparation.

Obama: Now, understand what this means “without preconditions.” It doesn’t mean that you invite them over for tea one day. What it means is that we don’t do what we’ve been doing, which is to say, “Until you agree to do exactly what we say, we won’t have direct contacts with you.”

McCain continued to reiterate the idea of preconditions and Obama’s foreign policy naivety. Preconditions. Preparation. In terms of international diplomacy and negotiation, Obama is open to dialogue – plain and simple. Whereas, McCain prefers a bullish, Bush-like negotiation style of setting conditions for even the most basic level of conversations and diplomatic meetings. With all the conditions upfront to simply talk to America and the Bush Administration over the last eight years, its no wonder the U.S. has any allies at all. Thus, the critical point is whether talking with our enemies is better than giving them the silent treatment.

In Obama’s own words: “I reserve the right, as president of the United States to meet with anybody at a time and place of my choosing if I think it’s going to keep America safe.”

I’ll just end my observations with this one final (humorous) thought. McCain, a whiz at using the personal anecdote, decided to share a story of a concerned mother of a U.S. soldier stationed in Iraq. She asked McCain to wear a bracelet in memory of her son’s situation and perhaps their “middle-class” concerns. (Oh that’s right, McCain failed to use the word “middle-class” at all during the debate. This oversight has to make Americans question if McCain had really thought of them at all.) McCain told this story to belie his concern about American soldiers in Iraq but not necessarily his concern for the stateside, regular guy’s pockets. And to many viewers surprise, Obama had his own U.S. soldier story in Iraq complete with a concerned mother and bracelet. Alas, if only the conversation on foreign policy, national security and the economy was as simple as wearing a bracelet.

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I agree with your post. Which is not something I will usually do! :) I enjoy reading a post that will make one think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

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